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Rotary International Convention concludes with a message of hope

By Etelka Lehoczky Photos by Monika Lozinska

After imagining the future of Rotary in Melbourne, Australia, members and speakers at the 2023 Rotary International Convention looked ahead to next year's gathering in Singapore and being able to share hope with the world by focusing on mental health and well-being.

"Singapore is a city that embodies the spirit of service and giving back to the community," said Jennifer Scott, chair of the 2024 International Convention Committee. "This city-state is a hub of culture, cuisine, and innovation, and is renowned for its architecture, natural beauty, and bustling nightlife. There is something for everyone in Singapore."

During the convention's closing session, 2023-24 Rotary International President R. Gordon R. McInally explained why he's asking members to make mental health a priority. When his only brother took his own life, McInally said, he became determined to fight the stigma around mental health issues and expand access to care.

"I might venture to suggest that one of the main reasons that my brother and so, so many others like him reach the point they do is that mental health remains such a taboo subject, and that mental health services remain in such short supply," he said. "I know that Rotary can do something about that. I am confident we can illuminate mental health needs near and far."

"We can help one another feel more supported as fellow Rotary members and as neighbors," McInally continued. "We can advocate for mental health services. And we can build bridges with experts in the mental health space to help expand access to treatment."

McInally urged Rotary members to Create Hope in the World by getting involved and taking action at a critical moment in history.

"To create hope, we must continue doing our important work, and do it better than ever before," he said. "We must refocus our efforts to build peace across the globe. And we must help each other find peace within — and share that ethic of care to the people we serve."

Earlier in the day, Kunle Adeyanju, president of the Rotary Club of Ikoyi Metro A.M., Nigeria, reflected on how to fulfill the promise of a polio-free world. In 2022, Adeyanju rode a motorcycle from London, England, to Lagos, Nigeria, to raise money and draw attention to the cause.

"We're in the last mile of the push toward polio eradication. That's quite encouraging," Adeyanju said. "But when you're so close to the tipping point, the whole gain you've achieved in the last 30 years could go away in one day."

He compared the commitment to end polio to his marathon ride.

"There were several instances where I was in the Sahara and I kept asking myself, 'Why am I doing this? Why did I get myself here?' But the resilient spirit in us says, 'Yes, it's difficult, but it's doable.' That's the same mindset we need to put into eradicating polio around the world."

During another session that focused on the difficult but doable, past Rotary Peace Fellow Ryan Rowe introduced Haitian Rotarians who have been working to bring clean water to 770,000 people in seven counties throughout the country as part of HANWASH, or the Haiti National Clean Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Initiative.

Over the last three years, the organization has raised US$1.8 million to dig wells, build latrines, and modernize water systems around the country. Organizers also plan to invest US$400,000 in a mentoring and training program for local engineers.

This "is an incredible story of Rotary impact that the entire world needs to hear," Rowe said.

In her closing remarks, Rotary International President Jennifer Jones, who made history as the organization's first female president, made the connection between imagining Rotary — the idea of her presidential theme — and hope, an element of McInally's.

"We don't imagine yesterday — and we also don't look for hope in past actions," Jones said. "'Hope' and 'imagine' are words for tomorrow — words that propel us forward. They build upon each other and offer a path forward. A path of continuity."

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